China hopes to work with Japan to establish more cordial relations, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Japanese counterpart on Sunday, aiming to move on from a series of disputes, some dating back to before World War II.

China and Japan have sparred frequently about their painful history, with Beijing often accusing Tokyo of not properly atoning for Japan's invasion of China before and during the war.

Ties between China and Japan, the world's second and third-largest economies, have also been plagued by a long-running territorial dispute over a cluster of East China Sea islets and suspicion in China about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution.

The two nations have, however, sought to improve ties more recently, with Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping having met in November on the sidelines of a regional summit in Vietnam.

Wang told Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono that his trip to Beijing, coming so early in the year, showed Japan's strong wish to improve relations and that China approves of this because better ties would be in both nations' interests.

"At present, the Sino-Japanese relations are at a crucial stage. There is positive progress, but many disturbances and obstacles remain," Wang said, but the minister also pointed to comments from Abe on wanting to improve relations.

"China-Japan ties always sail against the current, either forging ahead or drifting backward," Wang said in front of reporters at the start of talks with his counterpart.

"We hope that the Japanese side will neither relax in its efforts nor fall back, and turn the spoken statements into concrete actions."

Kono, who later met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and senior foreign policy adviser State Councilor Yang Jiechi, said that the two countries shared a major responsibility in safeguarding the stability and prosperity of Asia and the world at large.

"Not only do we need to manage our bilateral relations, but we also need to work together to deal with issues facing the entire globe, in particular the issue of North Korea," Kono said. "We desire to extend mutual cooperation between our two countries in working towards resolving this issue."

Japan has repeatedly pressed China to do more to help rein in North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. China says it is committed to enforcing U.N. sanctions but that all parties need to do more to reduce tensions and restart talks.

The sides were working to arrange a trilateral summit in Tokyo between leaders from China, South Korea and Japan, followed by a visit by Abe to China and a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Japan, said Norio Maruyama, a spokesman for Japan's Foreign Ministry.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Yang as saying the sides should "set aside interferences, consolidate and expand beneficial factors and further the continued development and improvement of China-Japan relations."

China and Japan experienced a major break in relations in 2012, after Beijing responded furiously to Japan's nationalization of uninhabited East China Sea islands that Tokyo controls but which China claims.

They moved toward normalization with Abe's visit to Beijing in 2014, however, mutual distrust continues to run high, especially over the islands, known in Japan as the Senkakus and in China as the Diaoyus. Taiwan also claims the islands, referring to them as Diaoyutai.

Maruyama said Kono stressed the importance of a coordinated approach to North Korea, but said japan also raised the issue of recent Chinese incursions into its territorial waters.

"We don't want to see anything that can undermine the improving relationship," Maruyama said.

Earlier this month, Tokyo expressed concern when a Chinese nuclear powered attack submarine was found operating just outside Japan's territorial waters. The sub later surfaced in the high seas flying the Chinese flag.

Japanese media quoted Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera telling reporters after the incident that Japan was "seriously concerned over acts that unilaterally raise tensions" and would "respond swiftly if a similar incident happens."

Also this month, three Chinese coast guard vessels passed through what Japan considers its territorial waters surrounding the East China Sea islands in the third such intrusion this month.

Both incidents have been viewed as attempts by China to probe Japan's ability to patrol the area and detect intrusions.

Animosity between the sides owes largely to Chinese resentment over Japan's brutal invasion and occupation of large parts of China. Many Chinese feel Japan has never shown adequate contrition for its acts, a sentiment fueled by the ruling Communist Party's use of heavy-handed nationalistic propaganda in schools and entirely state-controlled media.

Yet, the Japan-U.S. military alliance remains stronger than ever and Japan has responded to China's territorial claims by recently opening a museum in Tokyo to present evidence intended to support its position.

China's generally positive relationship with South Korea, another close U.S. ally, has also soured over Beijing's demands that Seoul remove a sophisticated anti-missile system intended to counter the threat from Pyongyang.

South Korea has refused to do so and Beijing has lately softened its position by accepting a commitment to not expand the system, known as THAAD.

Hopes for further reconciliation rose in November when officials from Japan, South Korea and China met in the Philippines to discuss the possibility of again holding a trilateral summit between them. The last one was held in 2015.